With a grandfather and father who graduated from Buffalo Law School and went on to be lawyers, John Lipsitz had no intention of following in their footsteps. Though he lacked interest in law growing up, he attended UB Law School.
After graduating, he received a job representing inmates at prisons across New York State for cases including the right to practice religion, right to be free from violence and beatings, and the right to have decent conditions consistent with what the U.S. Constitution provides.
Three years later Lipsitz left the prisons, started a family and returned to UB Law School, this time in a clinical position supervising students in law cases in courts. To further his career, Lipsitz took a job at his father’s law firm representing injured workers.
“A lot of these union workers were having difficulties. They were getting ill from working with toxic substances and filed claims for disease,” Lipsitz said.
While at the law firm, Lipsitz met Michael Ponterio, both representing people sick from asbestos. In 1995, they decided to form their own law firm, Lipsitz, Ponterio & Comerford, located on the fifth floor of 135 Delaware Avenue in Buffalo.
Many of their clients worked for 15 to 40 years in construction or in industry and became diagnosed with lung cancer, mesothelioma or some other disease related to the work they did many years ago.
“When I was working at Attica representing prison inmates, I got a letter from an inmate who was assigned to a work detail tearing down an old boiler house. He found out they were being exposed to asbestos dust,” Lipsitz explained. “I got interested in it and asked to see the superintendent of the prison to tell him this was happening and to stop the work.”
The inmates weren’t wearing masks while working with the asbestos, and the sergeants supervising the detail were also at risk of getting sick. The work was stopped and Lipsitz knew he would want to continue working with cases like this.
“It made me feel pretty good about being a lawyer. I felt I had done something to help not only the prisoner but the guys working at the prison, too,” Lipsitz said. “It’s a good feeling to help people.”
Not only was it a good fit for Lipsitz, it was a good fit for the Western New York community. There was an abundance of industry and construction after World War II, with workers using unregulated asbestos materials and no warning of the health risks upon them.
“There is a considerable number of cases of mesothelioma and other cancers among the working population,” Lipsitz said. “It takes over 20 years for these diseases to develop, and there are a lot of cases around here.”
Though there are treatments for these diseases to alleviate the pain and suffering, they usually have a fatal outcome. Lipsitz, Ponterio & Comerford want to aid these people and help them receive economic recovery.
“They want to know after they’re gone there’s something left for their family,” Lipsitz explained. Their clients have filed to receive money to provide for their wife, put aside money to send children or grandchildren to college, take care of the family’s medical needs, make home improvements or do something meaningful with their spouse because time is running out.
A typical case begins with figuring out the facts: where the client worked, what they were exposed to and how the disease happened. From there, the lawyers meet the family and will look at records to figure out what the companies are responsible for, such as what products the companies sold or the conditions the clients worked in to be exposed to the health concern.
The lawsuit will begin with a complaint. A month or so later a deposition will take place and the client’s testimony will be taken and preserved in the event the client does not live long enough for the case to go to trial. Most cases are resolved within a year.
And it’s not just court cases. This law firm will represent clients in front of the workers’ compensation board. They will also arrange for the creation of a will if the client does not have one, make sure the funds generated by the lawsuit are distributed properly to their heirs and work with the lawyer handing the estates. They have even encouraged legislators to not pass laws that can hurt clients, or enact changes in law to help them and working people.
“We have a lot of information we have developed over the last 30 years about worksites in areas, what products were used there and who sold/manufactured them,” Lipsitz said. “If you’re sick, we’ll meet with you, even if you have retired to another state. If it looks like there’s a real claim and someone’s sick we’ll go there right away.”
If you or someone you know could use the help of Lipsitz, Ponterio & Comerford or would like to learn more, call (716) 849-0701.